There is something deeply satisfying about working with your hands outdoors and in the company of friends. The other morning, for example, was spent removing alder saplings from an area of previously open ground that was starting to develop into scrub. By opening the area up again it was hoped that we would be able to maintain a mix of habitats and species on this particular site, rather than see much of the site develop into a single, uniform, habitat type.
A good deal of nature conservation involves the active management of land, usually to maintain a particular landscape feature or a particular type of habitat. Early successional habitats – those that represent the first stages of the pathway from bare ground, through grassland and scrub to mature woodland – are often rich in the species that they support; many of these species are nationally scarce and of conservation importance. While early successional habitats may be created through natural processes, they tend to be rather fragmented and uncommon within a landscape under pressure from housing, timber production and agricultural needs. Many of the sites where such habitats do occur have been designated as nature reserves. Because these sites are fixed in one place and because they will develop over time into woodland, they have to be managed to halt the process of natural succession.
Some would argue that we should cease our management of these sites, that we should allow nature to develop on its own pathway. In many ways I agree with this approach and would support such a course of ‘inaction’. However, there simply isn’t enough land within our crowded island to adopt this approach widely. There are places, typically in the north and west of Britain, where such an approach would be possible, where nature could be left to its own devices. This style of ‘non-management’ would only work in the lowlands of England if we were to completely change our approaches to planning, farming, population growth and economic expansion. We have previous little land set aside to nature and it is critical that we make the best use of it, working hard to maximise the diversity and range of creatures that it can support. Hands-on management is one tool for doing this.